José Besada

Strasbourg University and IRCAM

Different Trails: On the Multiple Genetic Roots Determining a Distributed Compositional Project

On 2014, Catalan composer Hèctor Parra submitted a project for writing a piece (entitled INSCAPE) for ensemble, orchestra and electronics that is being premiered in 2018. The project explicitly involved the active collaboration of two key personalities: physicist Jean-Pierre Luminet, for providing scientific concepts in order to nourish Parra’s creative ideas, and electronic music assistant Thomas Goepfer at IRCAM. With an eye on scrutinizing the distributed compositional project, we have made ethnographic observations of the different meetings of these three actors. They were carried from January 2015, when the project started, to nowadays. In addition, we have analyzed several documents (previous scores, compositional sketches, computer data, …) produced by these people and arisen both from this project and similar ones they separately developed at the past.
Genetic criticism on contemporary musical works often focuses on singular pieces that tend to be decontextualized from larger creative situations and/or projects. Research carried by authors such as Benoît Gibson (2011) or me (Besada, 2017) have started to take a wider scope, showing how previous works and ideas often infiltrate subsequent creative paths. In that sense, one of the most important hypotheses of my research around INSCAPE was that, although Parra’s project was indeed highly distributed, it would have pointed towards other implicit collaborations from the past, whether conscious or unconscious, explicitly displayed or tacitly masked by the involved people during the project.
Evidence from my research has confirmed the hypothesis. In this sense, this paper will show how INSCAPE has also been influenced by previous collaborations or readings carried by all the participants in the past, as well as by an extra project that emerged in between. The evidence we will provide can be summarized as follows:

  • Parra’s inspiration on physical concepts by other physicists (Lisa Randall, Leonard Susskind) that can be traced form sketches of previous compositions.
  • Luminet’s collaboration with American composer Gerard Pape in the past. Several elements of this collaboration were retaken in Parra’s project.
  • Projects by Goepfer with other composers that worked at IRCAM during the same period.
  • Parra and Goepfer had an extra collaboration during 2017, in a piece for cellist Arne Deforce, and they decided to use it for testing some elements they were developing for INSCAPE. Thus, their patch further served as a “toy model” for the bigger project.

In a nutshell, we will show how, although distributed contexts make explicit collaboration, they may also hinder other collaborative paths, and problems derived from isolating a singular compositional work from a genetic viewpoint.

Keywords: distributed creativity; long term analysis; Hèctor Parra.


José L. Besada studied composition at Real Conservatorio Superior de Música de Madrid and mathematics at Universidad Complutense de Madrid. He obtained a PhD in musicology at both Université Paris 8 and Universidad Complutense de Madrid. He obtained a first postdoc at IRCAM and is currently a postdoc researcher at Université de Strasbourg. He has taught contemporary music analysis at Université Paris 8 and at Université Paris 4 Sorbonne. His main publication is his book Metamodels in Compositional Practices, published by Delatour France and IRCAM. He is also guest editor, with Dan Albertson, of a double special issue on Spanish contemporary music that will appear soon at Contemporary Music Review. He currently collaborates with Radio Nacional de España- Radio Clásica, conducting the weekly broadcast on contemporary music.